Bubble-shaped lights emit a blue glow over 80 seats and 15 bar stools, causing diners to feel they’ve traveled below sea level. But, in the submerged setting, flames defy physics by dancing on plate tops. “We really like fire here,” says Thomas Op’t Holt, chef de cuisine at the Wyndham Grand Jupiter at Harbourside Place’s newest addition, Deep Blu.
Meet the chef
Chef Op’t Holt decided he’d likely be a chef at 7 years old. “The first memory I have of cooking was I made my mom scrambled eggs when she was sick and she was like, ‘Hey, you’re kind of good at this,’” he says. So, he enrolled in cooking classes throughout middle and high school. During his senior year, a recruiter from the Culinary Institute of America visited his high school, and after taking a year off of school to save up, he attended in 2005. Upon graduation, he moved back to Chicago to work at a restaurant called Butter. His next move was to the Reel Club under the direction of Chef Mychael Bonner, who Op’t Holt eventually followed to a restaurant called Saranello’s.
On the menu
Op’t Holt began at Deep Blu when the restaurant opened about six months ago. Since, he’s worked his way up to the position of chef de cuisine. During the hiring process, Op’t Holt prepared a roasted golden beets salad as part of his sample menu that’s since been offered as a permanent option. It incorporates goat’s milk ricotta cheese, mixed herbs, micro-greens and baby golden roasted beets. In an effort to not be wasteful, the staff juices the beets’ stems to create a topping drizzle. Op’t Holt says in addition to being economical, he also values his staff’s input. When he and his colleagues couldn’t figure out the ingredient to perfect a recipe for the ceviche, the Ecuadorian dishwasher disclosed what was missing. “He was like, ‘You’re missing this key ingredient.’ … So we tried it and we were like, ‘Wow,’” Op’t Holt says. … “I learn from everybody.”
At the bar
Deep Blu offers a Champagne, wine and cocktail selection as thought-out as the kitchen menu. Op’t Holt says his favorite specialty drink is the Burnt Orange, which is a play on a margarita that mixes Herradura Blanco Grand Marnier, orange juice and Agave. The drink arrives garnished with an orange that’s lit on fire. At 10:30 p.m., the kitchen offers a late-night menu with items like crab cake sliders, “drunken mussels” and oysters from the raw bar.
Stay for dessert
The Key lime gelée is prepped by the pastry team with a classic graham cracker crust, and mango caviar and Key lime powder toppings. The vanilla crème brûlèe sports caramel shards on top that are lit on fire for its grand entrance.